Monday, April 28, 2008

Billy Fullerton and the Bridgeton (Brigton) Billy Boys Gang Glasgow

The city of Glasgow in Scotland has had a long association with gangs. One of its most notorious gangs was the Brigton Billy Boys, a sectarian anti-Catholic gang from Bridgeton Cross in the east end of Glasgow. The gang was formed in 1924 by Bridgeton born and bred William Fullerton after he was attacked by a group of Catholic youths on nearby Glasgow Green. The gang was actually named after King William of Orange, with Billy Fullerton as its leader. Fullerton came from Franklin Street in the heart of Bridgeton.

Bridgeton in the 1920s/30s is often incorrectly portrayed as a staunchly Protestant area (because of its association with the Billy Boys gang). In reality, the area was very mixed and had a substantial Roman Catholic population, the vast majority of whom were descendants of 19th century Catholic Irish immigrants. In the 1920s/30s, the Glasgow Bridgeton parliamentary constituency - which was composed of Bridgeton, Calton and Dalmarnock - had the highest number of Catholic voters of all the parliamentary seats in Glasgow. It had even more Catholic voters than the Glasgow Gorbals parliamentary constituency, which was composed of Hutchesontown and Laurieston. In fact, the Glasgow Bridgeton seat had the 2nd highest number of Catholic voters in Great Britain. Only a constituency in the English city of Liverpool had a larger Catholic electorate. The Glasgow Gorbals seat was the 2nd most Catholic constituency in Glasgow and it also had a significant Jewish population in its Laurieston district.

Dennistoun - the area between Duke Street and Alexandra Parade (to the east of the Glasgow Necropolis) - was an overwhelmingly Protestant district in the east end of Glasgow in the 1920s/30s. In local council elections in 1931, the leader of the extreme right-wing anti-Catholic political party the Scottish Protestant league (SPL) - Alexander Ratcliffe - was elected to the Glasgow Coroporation (Glasgow City Council) ward of Dennistoun, only for the Tories (Conservative and Unionist Party) to regain the ward in 1934. At the height of the Depression in the early 1930s, the Scottish Protestant League (SPL) in Glasgow and its sister party the Protestant Action Society (PAS) - led by John Cormack - in Edinburgh got around a quarter of the votes in local council elections in the 2 cities. In fact, Protestant Action (PA) got 31% of the vote in Edinburgh in 1936 which gave it 6 councillors on Edinburgh City Council. (I think there had been elections in all of Edinburgh's council wards in 1936.) At its peak in 1933, the Scottish Protestant League got 23% of the vote in Glasgow which gave it 4 new councillors. This meant the SPL now had 7 councillors on Glasgow City Council including Ratcliffe in the Dennistoun ward. (There had only been elections in 23 of Glasgow's 37 council wards in 1933.) Ironically, the main beneficiary of the 1933 local council elections in Glasgow was the Labour Party. The SPL had taken most of their votes from the Tories with the result that Labour under Patrick Dollan gained control of Glasgow City Council (Glasgow Corporation) in 1933. Dollan would go on to become the first Catholic Lord Provost of Glasgow (since the Reformation) from 1938 to 1941. Incidentally, many of Glasgow's Lord Provosts since the 1940s have been Catholic Labour Party councillors.

In national elections in the 1920s/30s, Dennistoun was part of the Glasgow Camlachie parliamentary constituency. The Camlachie seat was composed of Dennistoun, east Gallowgate (Whitevale, Reidvale and Bellgrove) and Mile-End (including Barrowfield). The old Glasgow district of Mile-End was to the east of Abercromby Street in Calton, to the north of London Road in Bridgeton, to the south of Gallowgate and to the west of Barrowfield. Mile-End had more in common with Bridgeton and Calton than with Dennistoun.

The Bridgeton Billy Boys gang had 800 paid up members at its peak in the early 1930s, though many of its members were not from Bridgeton. The gang attracted many likeminded youg men - Scottish Protestants who felt they were being swamped by Irish Catholics - from other Glasgow districts such as Calton, Gorbals, Townhead, Garngad, Cowcaddens and even a few from nearby Lanarkshire towns such as Coatbridge and Airdrie. The Billy Boys claimed Bridgeton Cross - which was known locally as the Toll - as their territory/stronghold and this was where they always assembled. Bridgeton Cross was at the heart of the east end of Glasgow and was close to where the 3 areas (Bridgeton, Calton and Mile-End) converged. They actually converged at the junction of London Road - the part of London Road formerly known as Canning Street - and Abercrombie Street, which was just to the north west of Bridgeton Cross. The main rivals of the Billy Boys were the Norman Conks, a Catholic gang based in Norman Street, Bridgeton. Norman Street and neighbouring Poplin Street and French Street were about half a kilometre south of Bridgeton Cross and these 3 streets had a reputation as being overwhelmingly populated by Catholics. The Billy Boys used to take great delight at conducting Orange walks through these 'Catholic' streets in Bridgeton and also through neighbouring Glasgow districts with large Catholic populations such as Calton, Gorbals and Garngad. They even marched in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on a few occasions. At their peak in the early 1930s, the Billy Boys established a junior section known as the Derry Boys which was made up of teenagers. By the mid 1930s, the Bridgeton Derry Boys - who were led by 'Killer' McKay - had become a powerful gang in their own right.

In 1920s/30s Glasgow, there were strong links between the Tory (Conservative and Unionist) Pary, the Orange Order and Freemasonry and it is often said that the Billy Boys were the working class foot soldiers of these organisations. As well as beating up and harassing Catholics, the Billy Boys were also employed by local Tory politicians to break up socialist, Labour Party, trade union and other left-wing gatherings. The fact that many of Glasgow's socialists were from an Irish Catholic background probably made this task very appealing to the Billy Boys. Fullerton and some of his associates were awarded medals and certificates for their strike-breaking activities during the 1926 General Strike. The famous socialist Independent Labour Party MP for the Glasgow Bridgeton parliamentary constituency, James Maxton, had many run-ins with the Billy Boys.

In the mid 1930s, the Chief Constable of Glasgow's police, Sir Percy Sillitoe, started a major crackdown on Glasgow's gangs. The Billy Boys went into decline in the late 1930s, though it was probably the outbreak of the 2nd World War in 1939 that finally brought the Billy Boys gang to a complete end.

In the late 1930s, Billy Fullerton joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and he even started a Glasgow branch of the Ku Klux Klan. As well as despising people of colour, the KKK was also an anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic organisation and many of its founding members in America had been of Scots and Ulster-Scots (Scots-Irish) ancestry, the original Hillbillies.

The following song is still sometimes sung by the supporters of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, a club which is located, ironically, on the opposite side of the city from Bridgeton.

Hello, hello, we are the Billy Boys
Hello, hello, you'll know us by our noise
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood
Surrender or you'll die
For we are the Brigton Billy Boys

Bridgeton Cross is of course only a stone's throw from Parkhead, the home of Rangers great rivals, Celtic FC. In the 1920s/30s, the east end district of Parkhead - which was to the immediate east of Mile-End and Barrowfield - was part of the Glasgow Shettleston parliamentary constituency. This constituency was composed of Shettleston, Tollcross and Parkhead.

One of the ironies of Fullerton's life was that he often worked for Bridgeton bookmaker and boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour, who was a Catholic. Fullerton was often employed by Gilmour to erect boxing rings, an occupation for which he had a reputation as a specialist. Furthermore, after the 2nd World War, Fullerton worked as a ring whip for Glasgow bantamweight boxer Peter Keenan, who was also a Catholic. Keenan was the first and only Scottish boxer to win 2 Lonsdale Belts outright in 1953 and 1957. Keenan was a keen supporter of Celtic FC. At a match in the 1950s, Keenan was carried onto the pitch at Celtic Park on the shoulders of Billy Fullerton to receive the adulation of the Celtic supporters.

Billy Fullerton died in poverty in 1962 aged 57 years in a single roomed tenement home in Brook Street, Mile-End, just to the north of Bridgeton Cross. He was given a spectacular send-off as around 1000 marched in his funeral cortege - including flute bands - from Bridgeton Cross to the cemetery at Riddrie in the north east of Glasgow. There were even a few Catholics from Glasgow's east end and the city's boxing fraternity - including Peter Keenan - who quietly attended his funeral, such was their begrudging respect for this Glasgow hard man.

A poem called King Billy was written about Billy Fullerton by the Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan in 1963.

Further Background

Gangs were commonly found throughout the working class districts of Glasgow before the 2nd World War. However, while gangs in other parts of the city were primarily territorial in nature, the gangs of the East End were both territorial and sectarian. The areas of Calton, Bridgeton and Mile-End in the East End received a large number of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. While most of these Irish immigrants were Catholics, a significant minority were Protestants (Ulster-Scots) (Scots-Irish). Furthermore, many of the Irish Protestant immigrants were members of the Orange Order. Native Scottish Protestants and Irish Protestant settlers in the East End resented the large number of Irish Catholic immigrants settling amongst them, and this resentment was carried into the 20th century.

The Protestant Billy Boys and the Catholic Norman Conks from Bridgeton in the 1920s/30s were not the first sectarian gangs in the East End. The Protestant San Toy or San Toi and the Catholic Tim Malloys or Tim Molloys were rival sectarian gangs from Calton before the 1st World War. I have compiled a list of former sectarian gangs from the Calton/Bridgeton area. I am sure there were others.


San Toy (Protestant), Calton Tongs (Protestant), Tim Malloys (Catholic), Kent Star (Catholic), Calton Entry (Catholic)


Billy Boys (Protestant), Derry Boys (Protestant), Norman Conks (Catholic), Baltic Fleet (Catholic)

Some famous East End gang graffiti from years gone by:

Calton Tongs Ya Bass
The Baltic Fleet Sails OK


0702511m said...

Hi Glesjack,

I found your Billy Fullerton really interesting, but I was wondering where you got your stats from?
Particularly the one about there being 800 paid-up members.
I'd be interested to know :)


Cheryl Fullerton said...

Billy Fullerton was my father's Uncle. I've heard stories of Big Uncle Billy, and here he is... I'm a very proud Fullerton and am very happy to see that he has never been forgotten, even though I don't agree with everything he did!
Cheryl Fullerton, Reno, NV, USA.

rollinstone said...

You have got it wrong, The Dalton Tongs and San Toi were practically exclusively Roman Catholic

Anonymous said...

Billy Fullerton was an evil razor man. The bastard should have hung for what he did to innocent people

michael wills said...

Died in poverty in a pished stained bed penniless!!.

Fuck him,he's rotting in he'll! .

Caltonian said...

I came from the Calton and there were more than a few protestants in the Tongs and the San Toi. In the 1960's there were 2 non-denominational schools (Dovehill and St James) and two RC schools (St Alphonsus and St Mary) in the Calton. The gangs in the Calton were territorial and not based on any member'states religion.


rollinstone said...

I lived in "the Calton" as it has always been known, in the 60s and 70s and both gangs mentioned were almost exclusively catholic,any surviving members would be astonished to be categorized as being anything else.
My father used to tell us the tales of Fullerton but my opinion is he was no more than a thug like many of his generation,it's ironic that Britain went on to fight a war against the regimes that Fullerton supported losing millions of lives while his gang marched behind the union flag.

just a random motherfucker said...

Evil dirty basterd rotting hell

AyrboyDan said...

isnt garngad called milton now?

AyrboyDan said...

@alfie hamilton, were there not dirty evil catholics who harmed innocent people, and im not talking about priests!

AyrboyDan said...

@alfie hamilton, were there not dirty evil catholics who harmed innocent people, and im not talking about priests!

Gail Porter said...

Just wondering if he had any children?

A Horse with No Name said...

Interesting story.

My Mother's maiden name was Fullarton and her mother died before we (the Sharp family) came on the scene, not sure what happened to her father. I'm wondering despite no 'e' in the surname if they were related in some way. Mum's Mother was a Catholic and her Father a Protestant (both committed to their religions).

My father was from the Calton I'm not sure were my mother came from? Mother was born in the mid-1920's and Father 1919.

Both my Mothers Parents weren't around when we all grew up, so it's a bit of a gray area in the family tree.

Charles Sharp

A Horse with No Name said...

Btw The Calton Tongs...

My father (born 1919) every now and then got drunk (like most Glasgwegians do) and he'd come home shouting 'Calton Tongs Ya Bass'. Pop was a protestant and wasn't affiliated to any religion really. He was a Clyde FC supporter from the 1930's onward.

So I tend to go along with the Tongs being a mixed bunch in terms of religion.